After The Window: A Look At The Rivals

The period of the transfer window has come to a close, only really being talked about at any length right now because it’s an international break and there’s nothing else interesting to talk about. Last week I had a look at how I felt it had gone for Liverpool, but football clubs don’t exist in a vacuum. Just as Jürgen Klopp spent the summer strengthening his squad, so too did all of the other managers in the league.

Klopp

Klopp

There’s no way to tell right now who Liverpool’s rivals will be this season. After all, few expected Chelsea to be worried about the challenge from Everton and Swansea City for their hopes of a tenth-place finish last season, to say nothing of Leicester’s storm to the top of the table. We have to hope that the Reds will be in the mix for the Champions League places at the very least, though, so here’s an exploration of how the other teams aiming for a top four finish have done in the transfer market.

I consider there to be eight teams that the Reds will need to keep an eye on this term. That includes six of the seven teams that finished above us last season as well as Everton and Chelsea. I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you would get bored reading that much in one go, so I’ve decided to split this article in half. I have also decided to ignore Southampton as I believe that this will be the year that their continual selling of players and changing of managers will take its toll. The next part will be released later in the week, so keep an eye out for tweets about it.

Manchester United

The rivalry remains as fierce as ever, but it’s been some time since the Reds actively did battle with United when it comes to league positions. They weren’t even on our radar in 2013-2014, whilst we haven’t been on theirs for pretty much any year other than 2008-2009 over the past decade or so. They’ll definitely be in the mix at the end of the season, though, so how did they get on this summer?

The State Of Things Before

Manchester United have been lost ever since the departure of Alex Ferguson from the dugout. The decision to appoint David Moyes was more about Fergie protecting his own reputation than it was about the future of the club. The former Everton boss was almost certainly going to fail, making Fergie look even better by comparison, whilst if he somehow managed to succeed then the old Scot would look like a genius for picking for him.

Rnoid / shutterstock.com

Rnoid / shutterstock.com

When Moyes failed it was time for Louis Van Gaal to have a go. The Dutchman was too busy acting the clown to ever be king and when United fans realised how abysmal his football was to watch it was never going to take long before the axe fell. An FA Cup win last season merely served to paper over the cracks of a squad that lacked any real pace or penetration. Sever changes were needed to get United back to the top of the table and the Glazers, for once, appeared to move quickly to rectify things.

How Have They Improved?

The most obvious area of change for United is in the dugout. The instillation of José Mourinho as manager has United fans convinced that the good times are back, though whether that will be the case remains to be seen. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ has spent more money in his career than any other manager in the history of football, so it stood to reason that he’d do the same at Old Trafford. There remain some question makes over him, though, with his final season at Stamford Bridge proof of how badly things can go wrong when he’s alienated pretty much all of his players.

Celso-Pupo / shutterstock.com

Celso-Pupo / shutterstock.com

United are fortunate that the have David De Gea between the sticks, so no improvement was necessary there. Their defence is also reasonably solid, though Mourinho chose to bring in Eric Bailly to shore things up even further. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the player I personally think could make the biggest difference to the Red Devils, even though his signing was over-shadowed somewhat this summer.

Paul Pogba was bought at enormous expense and adds superstar quality to the team even if he needs to prove he can really do it in the Premier League. The same is true of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose arrogance might cause problems alongside his manager’s. He’s done well in the first three games of the season, but can it last the distance? Time will tell.

Manchester City

The influx of Sheikh Mansour’s millions turned City from being a team that only United cared about twice a year to being one of the richest and most successful teams in the country. Anyone who can dwarf Roman Abramovich’s wealth should be respected, whether you like the way they operate or not. So how did Citeh go about spending their fortune during the window?

The State Of Things Before

City’s squad is an interesting one. It’s full of extremely talented players assembled at great expense, but it lacks the cohesion of a team. Manuel Pellegrini was treading water last term and the decision to announce the imminent appointment of Pep Guardiola meant that the players coasted until he was given the boot. The arrival of the Spaniard will see City play some excellent, possession based football, but will he concentrate more on seeing them progress in the Champions League at the expense of the Premier League that they have already won twice before?

How Have They Improved?

Guardiola has the reputation of being the alternative to Mourinho, but he’s not averse to splashing the cash that much either. It must also be remembered that so far he has succeeded in two countries that have leagues that are two-horse races. That said, the resurgence of Raheem Sterling as the player we all knew he could become is proof that he isn’t over here merely to puff up his CV and he wants to win in the toughest league in the world.

By Biser Todorov (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Biser Todorov (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

His summer spending was split between some established stars and some youthful prospects. John Stones and Leroy Sané have both impressed for their former clubs and will be hoping that they can take their careers to the next level at The Etihad. Nolito and Ilkay Gundogan, meanwhile, will be keen to prove they can mix it in the tough world of the Premier League. The decision to oust Joe Hart and replace him with Claudio Bravo was a controversial one but will almost certainly prove to be worthwhile. The only question mark hangs over Pep’s decision not to bring in some cover for the injury-prone Sergio Aguero.

Chelsea

Recently it has seemed as if Roman Abramovich might quietly be getting a little bit bored of life in West London. He took his time to sack José Mourinho last-term, even when it was pretty obvious that he’d lost the majority of the dressing room. Is his spending slowing down, or has he decided to pick things back up again?

The State Of Things Before

Chelsea are arguably the most confusing squad in the entire Premier League. The club is blessed with virtually limitless funds and yet they have been dependent on the ageing John Terry for some time now. The relationship between José Mourinho and Roman Abramovich might well have been a fractious one, but the fans loved the Portuguese gaffer as he totally got their complete lack of class. Antonio Conte has come in with a reputation for being fiery on the touchline and for ruling things behind the scenes with an iron fist, meaning that he too will almost certainly be taken to by the Stamford Bridge crowd much like his predecessor.

How Have They Improved?

The Italian likes a defensively minded team and Chelsea are the only one of our rivals who, like us, have no European commitments to worry about. They’ll be difficult to break down and the addition of N’Golo Kante is an excellent one. David Luiz wasn’t exactly a massive hit during his first spell in West London and it remains to be seen whether he’s any more mature than previously. Marcos Alonso will also add something to the Chelsea backline if he can force his way into the starting XI.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

The other addition of note is Michy Batshuayi, with the Belgian arriving for a fee of around £30 million. Given Diego Costa’s combustible nature and the fact that he should have been sent off in two out of Chelsea’s three opening fixtures means that the young attacker will likely be starting games sooner rather than later. The re-emergence of Eden Hazard after a poor campaign last season will also be a bonus for the Blues if he can keep his good form up as he did two years ago. They’ve improved, but they’ll still be turning to Terry more than is ideal and an injury to Hazard could see them struggle to create much going forward. That they missed out on some of their top targets is something that they haven’t really experienced before, either.

Arsenal

The Gunners rarely go crazy in the transfer market, with Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to spend big causing problems with his own supporters. They finished second last year but have received no credit or praise for it as Spurs essentially threw the runners-up spot away when the title slipped from their grasp. Has the Frenchman broken the habit of a lifetime and improved things at The Emirates?

The State Of Things Before

Arsenal have reached the top four so consistently over the past decade that it’s become something of a joke. The ‘Wenger Trophy’ might be used as a stick to beat Arsenal with, as is the fact that the Gunners have only won two FA Cups since moving to The Emirates in 2006. Yet players want to play in the Champions League and knowing that Arsenal are almost guaranteed to be there is attractive for the best footballers in the world. Just look at Alexis Sanchez’s decision to turn Liverpool down for their London rivals a couple of years ago.

Celso Pupo / shutterstock.com

Celso Pupo / shutterstock.com

Everyone knows where Arsenal need to strengthen and it’s been obvious for years. The only person who didn’t see that a new goalkeeper, better defenders and a world-class attacker were the order of the day was Arsene Wenger himself. Arsenal fans thought the tide had started to turn when Petr Cech arrived last summer, but this summer showed that the Frenchman remains as stubborn as ever. Cech is a great goalkeeper but he’s ageing now and doesn’t command quite the same respect as he did when Chelsea were sweeping aside all in front of them, whilst the defence is still lacking that bit of quality; especially with a long-term injury to Per Metersacker leaving them looking light, too.

How Have They Improved?

The signing of Granit Xhaka is a good one and he’ll add steel to the middle of the park. He has been sent off a fair number of times in his career, however, and was lucky to stay on the pitch when we played them even though he only came on as a second-half substitute. It’s also not as if Arsenal have had a terrible midfield in the past and Wenger’s finally got around to noticing the problem. The midfield isn’t the area the Gunners needed to improve the most so how much of a difference Xhaka will actually make will be interesting to see.

The signing of Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia is one that did need to be made, though £35 million is a huge sum for a central defender who is unproven in the Premier League. If he fits in well and takes the move from Spain in his stride then he could prove to be an astute and important signing. Likewise the signing of Lucas Pérez could turn out to be a masterstroke. He scored 18 in 37 for Deportivo La Coruña last season and if he gets a similar return for Arsenal then they could well be in the mix at the end of the campaign. He’s had a mixed career, however, and is normally more of a 1 in 3/4 man than a 1 in 2 striker.

Part Two will be with you in a couple of days.

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